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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Two West Side students take WASL fight to the Web

Associated Press

SNOHOMISH, Wash. – A couple of ninth-graders are going on the Internet to challenge the state achievement test — the Washington Assessment of Student Learning, or WASL.

Ryland Penta and Jennifer Foster have grade-point averages just below 3.0 at the Snohomish Freshman Campus in this town 25 miles north of Seattle.

Penta, 14, plays basketball and is on the newspaper staff. Foster, 15, plays soccer and referees games, is on the newspaper staff and helps out at her father’s print shop.

Both failed portions of their last WASL test. And both are members of the class of 2008 – the first class for which passing the WASL is a graduation requirement.

Their Web site – www.freewebs.com/anti–WASL – features an online petition that calls for abolishing the WASL tests. It also offers a forum for students and adults who share their concerns.

“The people designing the test never had to take it,” Penta said.

“It’s hard, stressful,” Foster said.

The test itself is challenging enough, they said, and the hype and tense atmosphere that prevail during testing don’t help.

“We’re in a classroom for about 2 1/2 hours with the door closed, and everyone is silent,” Penta said. “Before the test, you’re thinking about how you’re going to do. But once you start it, you start to worry. Are people going faster than you? Are you going to be the last to finish?”

Anti-WASL comments also are showing up in online chat rooms and Web logs, or blogs.

And local members of the statewide Mothers Against WASL are looking into filing a lawsuit against the state if diplomas are denied to students who don’t pass the test.

Yet, it’s not likely that standardized tests will disappear.

In the November election, three anti-WASL candidates failed to unseat state Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson.

In 2000, one half of 1 percent of the state’s 10th-graders chose to opt out of the WASL math test.

Four years later, 2 percent of 10th-graders, or 1,454 students, opted out.

But that’s not an option for the class of 2008 and beyond.

WASL helps schools track how well they are preparing students for life after graduation, said Paula Koehler, executive director of curriculum for the Snohomish School District.

As for making it a graduation requirement, “the parents would need to talk to the people in Olympia about that,” Koehler said.

Penta and many of his classmates “all sort of seem to be getting this gloomy sense that they’re not going to make it,” said Penta’s mother, Debbie Hammer. “I don’t want to see him give up before he’s even really started.”

The Web site has given the kids an outlet and a sense of empowerment, Hammer said. “It’s a little civics lesson. And it’s a positive step.”

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